When Facebook offered developers the opportunity to write applications on the company's API, the fast-growing social network set up an opportunity to break out of its friend-finding, networking roots, and become something entirely different - a platform for real interactivity, not just learning what a friend has done in a passive sense, but to engage directly, either in real-time or in more a "taking turns" mode.
While Facebook's initial applications have been much maligned for their absolute uselessness, enterprising developers are quickly finding Facebook is a great place for casual gaming.
While games similar to those offered on Facebook are available in a myriad of other places, like Pogo or Yahoo! Games, Facebook has built-in benefits. After all, you can challenge friends in your network to a game, instead of being asked to play complete strangers. And while Scrabulous has achieved the highest share of coverage, other games, including the Boggle-like Scramble, and the Risk-like Attack, are gaining traction.
While I've not been overwhelmed with many of Facebook's features, I have taken to playing Scrabulous against family members, including my brother, who's about 2,000 miles away, in Tennessee. While game play is relatively slow, to the tune of 2-3 moves a day, it's something we can do together, regardless of distance. And believe it or not, the competitors on Scramble are pretty sharp, making me work just to get in the top 5 (with more than 100 players per game) and displayed on the leaderboard.
The earliest days of the Web featured easy access to research, but also leisure activities, like porn and gaming. The rise of social networks looks to be doing the same thing. With Facebook trying to keep adult material out, it's no surprise the first successful apps are for passively watching videos and playing games. As for real-world business apps, it will be some time yet. Facebook has got a lot of work to do before they "get serious".
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